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It really didn’t occur to me until after the conference call for UFC 117 with Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen that this whole scene feels familiar to me. It took reading fellow fan’s comments on different MMA sites and reading articles about the conference call before I fully understood this déjà vu feeling I was having. Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen is weirdly familiar to the Bret Hart vs. Stone Cold feud from the late 90’s.
First, let’s start with the Anderson Silva and Bret Hart comparison. Both are foreign (I know Canada is borderline foreign, but for the sake of the argument) and broke into their respective industries like a bat out of hell only to rise to the top and stay there for a long time. Through technically superior skills and a humble attitude both men were fan favorites at the beginning and peak of their respective careers. Frankly, both men can make the argument that they are "The Best There Is, The Best There Was, The Best There Ever Will Be".
Then you have "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Chael Sonnen. On the journey to the top of their professions, both men had to struggle to get to the top. After getting fired from the WCW and a brief stint in the ECW, Stone Cold had to go through a few monikers before he became the ultra popular "Texas Rattlesnake". Chael Sonnen, on the other hand, had to work his way through many smaller promotions to get to the UFC, only to part ways after losing to Jeremy Horn at UFC 60. He then did a tour with Bodog fights and the WEC on his way back to the UFC where it took some clever self-marketing to get himself into the position he is in now: fighting for the title. Like Stone Cold, Sonnen is a conservative that talks tough and so far, has backed it up.
Up until recently, it would have been hard to believe that Sonnen is going to be the fan favorite heading into UFC 117. The same thing could have been said about Stone Cold when his feud with Bret Hart started. Up until the age of Stone Cold, all the heroes in pro-wrestling had a squeaky clean imagine ("To all my little Hulkamaniacs, say your prayers, take your vitamins and you will never go wrong") and Bret Hart was one of those squeaky clean guys. But, Stone Cold’s I-am-going-to-do-what-I-want persona appealed to pro-wrestling fans around the world. Finally, the "switch" happened at Wrestlemania 13. Squeaky clean Bret Hart became the heel and badass Stone Cold became the hero.
Just like with Bret Hart and Stone Cold, the "switch" is happening with Chael Sonnen and Anderson Silva. As we all know, for months Sonnen has talked an enormous amount of crap about Anderson Silva. Mainly saying that Silva is a fake and an a-hole. When Sonnen first started his rants a few months ago, it was fun and original, but lately it seemed to be getting desperate and annoying. It seemed that Sonnen’s never-ending trash talking was beginning to piss of MMA fans. Then the UFC 117 conference called happened yesterday. In the span of about seven minutes, it seemed that everything Sonnen was saying about Silva was justified. Silva came off as a selfish, jerk and was later torn apart by the media and fans alike. Here is an example of the Silva-post-UFC 117-conference-call-blacklash from Yahoo! Sports Steve Cofield:
Boorish, disrespectful, clownish, obnoxious, rude and even insubordinate. Those are just some of the derogatory terms used to describe Anderson Silva's behavior during the main event at UFC 112. Between the gyrating, dancing and his failure to engage during much of the fight, Silva sent Dana White over the edge, disrespected the UAE royal family (his new bosses) and turned off many fans. Silva showed a little contrition in the immediate aftermath but during a UFC 117 teleconference, to preview next weekend's main event, it was good to find out the old Silva is still alive and well.
Showing once again he doesn't get it, the UFC middleweight champ made gave plenty of one-word answers and mocked most of the questions. It's the fight game. Part of your job is to sell the fight and in doing so raise your own profile. It is fine Silva's a jerk, we get that. But at least embrace it.
Floyd Mayweather is a genius. He gets it. As long as you pick a side, Floyd is happy. That's why he's making $25 million a fight. Silva is on the opposite end of the spectrum. His approach during an incredible 11-fight win streak is still why almost no one outside of MMA has any idea who he is. Chael Sonnen, who is the antithesis of Silva with the media and fans, gets it and wrapped things up nicely.
Yes, the "switch" has officially occurred. Sonnen is going to enter the Octagon August 7th as the fan favorite even after all the crazy, semi-racist/homophopic things he has said over the past few months and Anderson Silva is going to enter as an enemy of the state without really doing or saying anything (doing/saying nothing is actual his problem). Hero has become the heel and the heel has become the hero. All the needs to happen now is for Sonnen to refuse to tap from a submission attempt (preferable a leg lock of some kind) and pass out from the pain to complete the Hart vs. Stone Cold MMA redux.